The reports are acrimonious, the video clips horrifying, and the jury is all but adjourned; nerve gas has been used again in Syria. At least 58 people, many of them children, died a gruesome death yesterday. It is a type of death that should not be experienced by anybody. Humanity recognized the brutality of chemical weapons after widespread use in Word War I by banning them during the 1925 Geneva Protocol. During World War II, general morality prevailed and chemical weapons were used only sporadically, predominantly by the Imperial Japanese Army against Chinese forces. In 1972, the International Biological Weapons Convention prohibited the development, production, and stockpiling of chemical weapons. After Saddam Hussein's 1988 chemical massacre that killed an estimated 5,000 people, the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention re-affirmed these implementations and also required the destruction of all chemical weapons. The use of chemical weapons clearly violates international law, but history has shown us that moral restraints are tenuous.
If cruel, unusual, and barbaric punishment exists, death by nerve gas would certainly be it. Nerve agents are classified as organophosphates, and can be thought of as extremely potent and lethal insecticides, or humanicides. The first nerve agents created—tabun, sarin, and soman—were made in World War II by German scientists. Later in 1952, British scientists manufactured VX, or venomous agent-X. While chemically similar to the organophosphate insecticides, these agents are used in warfare because very low concentrations are needed to cause death in humans.
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